Distress in Ireland

A Survey by the
American Unit
under the Auspices of the American Committee for Relief
in Ireland

An Explanation

Tn February of this year the American Committee for Relief in Ireland sent to that country a Unit composed of individual members of the American Society of Friends (Quakers), who had served in relief work in France, Serbia, and other countries during the world war. The purpose of this body was to investigate fully the distress, for the alleviation of which money is being raised in the United States. The report of their findings in Ireland, prepared by Samuel D. McCoy, secretary of the Unit, has been placed in the hands of the American Committee for Relief, and a condensation of this report is herewith given to the American people, so that they may have the opportunity of judging by this first-hand evidence of unbiased witnesses the extent of the destitution and suffering which, the American Committee is confident, they, with their traditional generosity, will help to alleviate.

The Report

New York, April 14, 1921.

To the Executive Committee,

American Committee for Relief in Ireland,
New York City.


Your delegation to Ireland respectfully reports that its members arrived in Ireland on February 12, and, with the exception of Mr. France, had left Ireland by March 31. During these forty-nine days, members of your delegation conducted an investigation into economic distress in Ireland, which, they respectfully submit, has not been equaled in scope by any other investigative body, either Irish, British, American, or of any other nationality.

The members of your delegation themselves visited nearly one hundred communities in Ireland in which acute distress exists. They collected reports from many other communities from responsible persons of all shades of political opinion, and also had the co-operation of responsible members of the English Society of Friends, who visited the devastated communities of Ireland and were similarly moved by the distress which they found there existing.

The members of the delegation visited no less than 95 cities, towns, villages, and creameries, in which destruction of buildings , or property by the military or police forces of the British Crown has occurred.

The places visited range in geographic location from Gortahork, on the extreme northwestern coast of Ireland, to Timoleague, on the extreme southern coast; from Dublin, in the east, to Clifden and Aran Islands, on the west. They are located in 22 of the 32 counties of Ireland.

In the 95 places visited there occurred 90 per cent, of the material damage to property owned by the civil population, which had been recorded during the twelve months ending March 31, 1921.

Your delegation viewed this damage personally, and personally collected on the spot evidence as to the value of the property destroyed. In addition, written statements from reliable sources were supplied to your delegation regarding material damage in the small number of afflicted communities which they were unable to visit.

Summarizing this data in regard to material damage and personal distress, your delegation reports that the material damage to Irish shop-buildings, factories, creameries, and private dwelling houses inflicted by the British forces during the past twelve months amounts approximately to $20,000,000; that without reductions in the cost of labor and materials the cost of replacing the buildings will be approximately $25,000,000.

The number of buildings which have been damaged or partially or wholly destroyed within the past twelve months, and which we have viewed, is upwards of 600 Irish Republican statisticians place the number of property units destroyed1 at upwards of 2,000, but this includes not only buildings, but individual shops in buildings, their contents, isolated farm buildings, hayricks, etc.

Homes Destroyed

The destruction of buildings in 150 towns in so small a country as Ireland is relatively as serious as the destruction of buildings in 5,000 towns and villages would be in so large a country as the United States.

Our own general estimate of $20,000,000 (£5,000,000) damage throughout Ireland, arrived at from our investigations on the ground, coincides substantially with the total figures collected by Irish Republican statisticians, and, it should be noted, is less by $8,000,000 than the estimate given us by a responsible Crown official who is informed in regard to the data in the possession of the Crown, and who placed the Crown estimate at £7,000,000.

The distress which we ourselves witnessed, in the ninety-five communities which we visited, and which is scattered throughout Ireland, is, we here emphasize, a distress quite separate and distinct from that distress in Ireland which arises from unemployment due to a general trade depression, such as may be observed in countries throughout the world; it is separate and distinct from the distress arising from long continued poverty, such as may be observed in the slums of New York or Chicago or London; it is wholly separate and distinct from the economic distress of Irish women and children whose male relatives may be engaged in active armed opposition to the British military forces operating in Ireland, and whose male relatives, thus being unable to engage in their ordinary industrial vocations, leave their families in want.

The distress we are here dealing with is that of habitually thrifty and industrious workers, who would be able to continue in their occupations and to support their families were it not for the abnormal situation now existing in Ireland; men and women who are emphatically neither the so-called “professional beggars” who are common to all countries, nor the workers whom the trade stagnation which has been prevalent throughout the world has temporarily thrown out of employment; they are an industrious section of the community, never previously in need of help from anyone, and who would not accept it now if the alternative which faced them were not the starvation of their families; men and women who have quietly gone about their peaceful pursuits all their lives and who have steadfastly refrained from taking any part in armed activities. It is for such persons, now thrown out of work, that we confidently invoke the sympathy and practical help of every American, solely on the ground of that fundamental mercy and humanity which transcends all else.

100,000 in Need

We found that there are some 25,000 families, numbering approximately 100,000 men, women and children, who are in pitiful need of instant help from the American people.

We may point out that even when employed, the workman in Ireland receives a wage so low that it would be difficult for an American to understand how the Irish workman can support himself and his family upon such a wage. Now, through no fault of their own, the families to which we refer are without even this pitifully small income. In most cases, their pathetic savings have already been spent for the barest necessities of existence. They need bread, and they need it quickly.

The present prevailing wage for ordinary unskilled labor in Ireland ranges from $9 to $14 a week; even those who are workers at electric power houses, for example, receive only $14; motormen receive $12.50; conductors $11.50; farm laborers rarely more than $8.

Today the 25,000 families to which we refer have not even this scanty income. They do not receive the unemployment allowance, which was limited to eight weeks. What will it cost to feed them? A wages commission was recently appointed in Cork City to determine the minimum on which a man and family could exist in reasonable respectability. A report fixing the minimum living wage at $14 was returned.

The families which we found to be justly within the province of your Committee’s helpfulness are now cut off from earning this $14 a week, or any sum whatever. They can manage to keep alive on a diet which would seem a starvation diet to the poorest American family—a diet chiefly consisting of no more than bread and tea at every meal, with a bowl of soup two or three times a week as a luxury—and this meager diet, the rental of bare lodgings, and an almost infinitesimal supply of fuel for heat and cooking, can be obtained for $7 a week. This will keep life in a family of five—father, mother and three children—and this is the minimum amount which will be necessary for each family.

When we state that there are 25,000 families now in need of help in Ireland, we are quite aware that the ordinary traveler through Ireland, going only by train, and visiting not more than two or three communities, would be unaware that any such degree of distress exists. From his train windows he would see only a green and fertile countryside, of immense agricultural wealth, and fully capable of supporting its population. In the towns he might visit he would see, in his casual walks through their business streets, little that would lead him to believe that acute distress exists.

But if he looked beneath the surface, if he went from house to house, outside the beaten paths of travel, eliminating, though he might, all the distress from unemployment resulting from trade depression, and all the distress of the habitual mendicant class—he would still find, in every little village that he entered, two, three, or a half-dozen families which had never before been in want and which, but for the fact that they had at last come face to face with starvation, would never let their need be guessed.

Let him go, as we did, from town to town, adding up such cases as these, one by one, until he had gone the length and breadth of Ireland; let him visit the towns where shops and factories have been destroyed, and add up the numbers of those kept out of employment by the crippling of those industries; let him take note of the hundreds of families brought to continued distress by the destruction of the business center of Cork, and the thousands of families in Belfast whose wage-earners have been able to earn nothing since they were driven from the shipyards of Belfast seven months ago; and when he has looked at the total he himself has set down, he will wonder that his casual thought was that there is little distress.

They Face Starvation

One hundred thousand men, women and children! Less than three per cent, of the total population of Ireland, it is true; but if 3,000,000 Americans were faced with actual starvation today, who had never known distress until today, who would say that there was not a most pitiful situation in America ?

From the crippling of the co-operative creameries in Ireland, 15,000 farmers who supplied these creameries with milk for butter and cheese-making are suffering severe loss and are faced with even more deeply serious distress in the immediate future. Their situation is not due to general business depression. It has been brought about by conditions wholly outside their control, and not related in any way to market stagnation, which, in fact, does not exist. Upon these 15,000 farmers depend 45,000 women and children.

Creameries Destroyed

Our investigation into the destruction of creameries in Ireland, the reasons for this destruction, the economic importance of the co-operative dairy business in Ireland, and the cost of restoring the damaged creameries to their normal state, was conducted by Mr. Oren B. Wilbur, a dairy farmer of wide experience and mature judgment, and Mr. William B. Price, an architect. Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Price were at all times in close consultation with the officials of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, Plunkett House, Dublin, the organization of which Sir Horace Plunkett is the head, and which has built up the co-operative movement in Ireland during the past 27 years. It is purely an industrial organization, and one which has sedulously kept itself free from political interests of any sort throughout its existence. On the major portion of their tour of investigation, covering hundreds of miles, Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Price were accompanied by Mr. Fant, the chief traveling representative of Plunkett House in organizing and operation of creameries.

During the past year, beginning on April 9, 1921, more than 50 attacks by Crown forces were made on co-operative creameries, resulting in their partial or total destruction. Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Price personally visited 29 of these creameries, including all those where the most heavy damage was inflicted, and directly collected reports regarding 26 others. They estimate that the amount necessary to restore these 55 creameries to operation is £114,279, but state that in arriving at this figure they adopted drastically reduced estimates, and give it as.their opinion that the total sum needed to rehabilitate the creameries completely amounts to £250,000.

The summary:                                          Men, Women, Children

On dairy farms………………………………….60,000
In Belfast…………………………………………23,000
In Cork……………………………………………..8,000
In 150 smaller communities
throughout Ireland……………………………..3,000

The minimum needed is $450,000 a month.

Material Damage

There are today upwards of 1,000 cooperative agricultural societies in Ireland, with a membership of 140,000 farmers. Their trade in butter, cheese, and other agricultural products amounted during the year 1919 to £11,158,583, making the average annual turnover for each society £10,886. The 55 damaged creameries included many whose annual turnover was far above this average, the total number of farmers supplying these creameries with milk being approximately 15,000, and their aggregate annual turnover being approximately £1,000,000.

At the annual meeting of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society in Dublin, on March 22 last, at which Mr. France was present, the annual report was submitted; in regard to the destruction of creameries the report said:

“The material damage resulting from over fifty attacks on creameries—over sixty, if fourteen raids on one society were to be separately included—cannot yet be exactly stated, but will, it is estimated, exceed £200,000. If consequential damage is taken into account, as in some cases the County Court Judges who had tried them agreed to be equitable, the financial loss was incalculable. It may run to £1,000,000.”

In the supplementary report drawn up by Mr. Wilbur at the conclusion of the exhaustive investigation made by Mr. Price and himself, Mr. Wilbur says:

“I wish to express my conviction that the creameries and their auxiliaries are the most important of all the immediate relief needs which the American people can help, and I wish to strongly urge upon the Committee the consideration of their claims. The whole butter and cheese-making industry will be hard hit if these creameries are not soon set running again, and, further, the cattle-raising business will also be affected. Now all the calves are raised on the skimmed milk from the creameries, instead of a part being ‘vealed,’ as they are in many parts of America. Then, when they are about two years old. they are sold to the grazers in the midlands, who fatten them on the rich grass lands of central Ireland and then ship them to England. If the lack of creameries results in the farmers being compelled to sell their cows, as it already has in some measure, it will mean that there will be less and less calves, and soon the grazers will find themselves short of feeding stock, and both the dairy and meat product of the kingdom will be seriously curtailed.”

An extract from the reports, supplementary to this report, which are offered by the individual members of.the American Society of Friends who were members of your delegation to Ireland, reads:

The Need

“Is there a need? There seems to me to be a great need in Ireland, need resulting from three fundamental causes: (1) the burning of their homes; and (2) the destruction of industries upon which persons relied for their support; and (3) the lack of employment resulting from economic stagnation. The need from the burning of homes seems to me to be both great and pressing. We went through dozens of towns where there were homes and shops burnt; in most cases these people have made claims for damages, but in the meantime, these claims have not been paid, in many cases there is little probability of their ever being paid. As an individual I am entirely convinced that many of these people were entirely innocent of any complicity in the acts for which they were punished by having their homes burnt.”

Respectfully submitted,

Samuel D. McCoy,

President Harding Says:

“I wish you the fullest measure of success in every worthy effort to make a becoming contribution on the part of our people to relieve distress among the women and children in Ireland. The people of America never will be deaf to the call for relief on behalf of suffering humanity, and the knowledge of distress in Ireland makes quick and deep appeal to the more fortunate of our own land, where so many of our citizens trace kinship to the Emerald Isle.”

Morgan J. O’Brien, Chairman
The American Committee for Relief in Ireland

J. F. Lucey, National Director
1 West Thirty-fourth Street, New York

John J. Pulleyn, Treasurer
Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, 51 Chambers
Street, New York

Richard Campbell, Secretary
1 West Thirty-fourth Street, New York


Bernard M. Baruch
Hon. A. J. Beveridge
Hon. John J. Blaine, Governor of Wisconsin
George B. Cortelyou
General Chas. G. Dawes
Hon. D. W. Davis, Governor of Idaho
Josephus Daniels
Hon. J. M. Dixon, Governor of Montana
Hon. H. L. Davis, Governor of Ohio
Hon. Westmoreland Davis, Governor of Virginia
Hon. Edward I. Edwards, Governor of New Jersey
Haley Fisk
Hon. L. J. Frazier, Governor of North Dakota
Hon. A. J. Groesbeck, Governor of Michigan
Wm. R. Hearst
Hon. A. M. Hyde, Governor of Missouri
W. Cardinal O’Connell
Hon. J. Hartness, Governor of Vermont
Chas. H. Ingersoll
David Starr Jordan
Franklin K. Lane
Henry Morgenthau
Hon. E. P. Morrow, Governor of Kentucky
Wm. G. McAdoo
Medill McCormick
Elizabeth Marbury
Jane Addams
Chas. Nagel
Hon. J. A. O. Preus, Governor of Minnesota
Hon Lee M. Russell, Governor of Mississippi
Hon. O. H. Shoup, Governor of Colorado
Henry Watterson
Hon. E J. SanSouci, Governor of Rhode Island
Hon. A. O. Brown, Governor of New Hampshire
Hon. T.E.Campbell, Governor of Arizona
Hon. Chas. R. Mabey, Governor of Utah

Source: Villanova University

Dantonien Journal